HL Deb 24 September 2002 vol 638 cc205-6WA
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which committee now advises the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England on Ancient Monuments under the terms of the National Heritage Act 1983 (Chapter 47, Schedule 3, paragraph 9); and what advice they have received from the Commission on the ongoing destruction of the Scheduled Ancient Monument at Verulamium through continuing deep ploughing and upon the problems which deep ploughing presents for other scheduled ancient monuments in England. [HL5517]

Baroness Blackstone

The committee that advises English Heritage on ancient monuments is the Historic Sites and Landscapes Committee, formerly the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee.

English Heritage has advised that there is evidence that ploughing in parts of the Verulamium scheduled monument is causing ongoing damage to the archaeology. It is, however, difficult to delineate the areas in which damage is being caused because of the topography of the site.

Before a final decision can be made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the correct way forward she must satisfy herself that all available options have been explored, that the necessary legal procedures have been followed and that any action is underpinned by appropriate evidence. DCMS is identifying those parties with a legal interest in the site so that consultation can take place. We all want to bring matters to as speedy a conclusion as possible—within the relevant legal and procedural constraints.

The term "deep ploughing" is not one that has an agreed definition and used in the context of this site, it conveys a misleading impression. Ploughing at scheduled monuments is only permitted within the terms of the Ancient Monuments Class Consents Order 1994 which gives consent to the following works (among others):

"Agricultural, horticultural and forestry works of the same kind as those previously carried out lawfully in the same location and on the same spot within that location within the period of six years immediately preceding the date on which the works commence; but excluding works falling into one or more of the following categories—(a) in the case of ploughed land, any works likely to disturb the soil of any part of that land below the depth at which ploughing of that part has previously been carried out lawfully."

Of course, ploughing and other means of cultivating the soil are potentially damaging to any ancient monument or archaeological site. The cultivation of previously undisturbed sites may disrupt and make archaeological areas indecipherable and the repeated disturbance of the soil can fragment and abrade artefacts that are contained within it. The deeper the ploughing the more likely it is to destroy previously undisturbed levels even in land that has previously been cultivated. The impact on any one ancient monument is, however, dependent on the land use history and the nature of the site itself.